Using theatre to learn science concepts: Fine arts meets core curriculum

Leave a comment

April 20, 2015 by HCDE Communications

theater in classReviewing science concepts for standardized testing sounds pretty boring, and unfortunately it often is.

A new grant-funded initiative at Houston ISD through Main Street Theater is allowing children to learn science concepts through movement.“Steamwork!” is a theater arts integration residency provided at select middle schools. Through the program, participating teachers tell Main Street Theater’s Education Director Jonathan Gonzalez what topics that they would like covered in the residency.

Through an education collaborative, Jonathan and I work together to craft ways that theater exercises can model scientific principles. Theatrical techniques are especially helpful in teaching abstract science concepts that are too small or too large to directly observe and manipulate. Topics covered in residencies this spring include plate tectonics, components of the universe, Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams, global weather patterns, evidence of chemical reactions and balancing chemical equation.

Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet classroom, Houston, TX

Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet classroom, Houston, TX

It’s a challenge to address science curriculum in a meaningful way while keeping students engaged and motivated. Teachers will need to stop treating the mind and body as completely separate entities. Research has shown that there are strong connections between movement, energizing activities and improved learning.

According to Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind, teachers who insist that students remain seated during the entire class period are not promoting optimal conditions for learning. It is when students are physically and creatively engaged in what they are learning, when they are physically experiencing the curriculum content, that their brains are in the optimal conditions for learning.

When the body is active, so is the brain. In a science class when students arrange themselves and move around as solid, liquid or gas molecules, it becomes much easier to understand the concept of density. The concept is easier to grasp than a worksheet with mathematical density problems. It is easier for students to answer higher-level, more rigorous questions when they gain deeper knowledge in learning while doing.

Traditional Worksheet

Traditional Worksheet

If your students are studying the movement of tectonic plates, should you have them do a worksheet or role play what happens at plate boundaries? Which would do a better job at helping students explain why volcanoes appear at convergent plate boundaries?  Role-playing this event can help students understand how changes in density, temperature and pressure can lead to tectonic events.

I invite you to share your thoughts on embodied learning. What are your challenges with integrating the arts with core curriculum?

Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head by Carla Hannaford.

For other inspiration to integrate arts into a core curriculum, see

About the Blogger:
Lisa Felske is curriculum director for science at Harris County Department of Education. Her areas of expertise include integrating science with other disciplines and student misconceptions in science. She enjoys being a Girl Scout leader, reading way past her bedtime, and using the Oxford comma.

Leave a Reply

HCDE news in your inbox

Subscribe to receive news from Harris County Department of Education by entering your email address below

Get Social!

Talk to us

HCDE Communications wants to hear from you! Have a question or a story idea? Send us an email.

©2023 Harris County Department of Education